A volunteer assembling paintings drawn by children with autism at the Paint for Autism 2017 event in Shah Alam recently.

It is heartening to see the many Malaysians supporting World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 every year. The campaign is made more memorable by the strong support of Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who has an autistic child.

There are numerous examples of support from Malaysians for those with autism. One is the story of a determined father, who gave up his job in the corporate sector to open and manage a cafe (Autism Cafe project) to provide skills training for autistic children, including his own child.

Then, there are the Paralympic athletes who delivered phenomenal gold medals in style. These special people have to work harder because their abilities differ from ours. They continue to conquer their fears and show us how much can be achieved if we love and support each other more.

Some of these children have done well at school, and their achievements can be attributed to tenacious and unwavering family support, especially from their parents. I think it is time for society to step up to be the change we want to see happening in our country.

I read with much admiration the trials and tribulations that actress Zarina Zainuddin went through raising her autistic twins. Autism is a lifelong disability. Some parents do not have the luxury to seek help and may have to quit their jobs to look after their autistic children.

The establishment of Permata Kurnia is timely because it provides the early intervention that these children need to enable them to pursue their dreams.

These stories ought to inspire us to help families raising disabled children because inaction will be detrimental to the country.

The authorities should include the needs of this group when formulating public policy.

Schools must be a safe haven for disabled children to interact with other children, learn, and build their confidence and social skills.

Do not segregate them in special classes. The disabled fare better in an inclusive society.

Public facilities should be places where society learns about tolerance and compassion for the disabled. We can organise activities to enhance their living skills, including baking, soap making, painting and wood crafting.

We have to acknowledge that the range of services provided by government agencies may be limited.

This is where the private-public partnership model can be applied to good use with a strong impact. Non-governmental organisations, and the public and private sectors can sponsor or provide speech therapists, psychologists, teacher aides, special diets, vitamin supplements and other forms of assistance.

As for transport, perhaps a dedicated Uber or Grab service can be provided for disabled children to go to school?

But, the simplest gesture we can make is love them as if they are our own flesh and blood. Parents of autistic children worry about what will happen when they are no longer around to care for their children.

I can only imagine the pain and suffering they go through. How can we look on and not do anything when we know that they cannot fend for themselves?

I dedicate this piece to my late Tok Babam who became disabled after an accident, Aunty Lyn who bravely fought for kakak to attend normal classes at school despite her hearing impairment, and to Ros, Azlee, Kak Ina and Raja for showing me the depth of parental love by raising Wafy and Along against all odds, and for giving me the chance to be part of their journey.

Thank you for showing me the meaning of unconditional love, compassion and sacrifice.

NUR AYUNI ZAINAL ABIDIN

Kuala Lumpur

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